Dalal is a young woman living in a crowded Baghdad apartment with the childless aunt and uncle who raised her. In the same building, Umm Mazin, a fortune-teller, offers her customers cures for their physical and romantic ailments, Saad the hairdresser attends to a dwindling number of female customers, and Ilham, a nurse, escapes the stark realities of her hospital job in dreams of her long-lost French mother. Despite the damaging effects of bombings and international sanctions on their world, all the residents try to maintain normal lives.
Hoping to bring in much-needed cash by selling honey, Dalal's uncle becomes a beekeeper, enlisting Dalal's help in the care of these temperamental creatures. Meanwhile, Dalal falls in love for the first time against a background of surprise arrests, personal betrayals, and a crumbling social fabric that turns neighbors into informants.
Tightly crafted and full of vivid, unforgettable characters, Absent is a haunting portrait of life under restrictions, the fragile emotional ties among family and friends, and the resilience of the human spirit.
“Absent opens a door to a view of Iraqi life we have seldom seen. With a compassionate eye Khedairi explores a community, damaged by wars and sanctions, struggling for survival.”
–Elizabeth Cox, author of The Slow Moon
“A fascinating book and a great pleasure to read: Betool Khedairi is a talented new voice in fiction.”
–Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Yacoubian Building
“Absent is an important book in the way that The Grapes of Wrath and The Kite Runner are important books. Betool Khedairi performs the miraculous feat of transforming Iraq from an abstraction into a world populated by real people devastated by the intrusions of an empire on the other side of the globe.”
–Sarah Bird, author of The Flamenco Academy
“A strong new voice in Iraqi literature.”
–Radio Free Europe
“Brilliant, funny and disturbing, Absent portrays an unforgettable struggle for dignity in a world under siege.”
–Teresa Carpenter, author of The Miss Stone Affair